What Qualifies as a Misdemeanor in California?
People make mistakes. Whether as a youth or as an adult, we’ve all done things we wish we could take back. One mistake should not ruin the rest of your life. Unfortunately, sometimes those mistakes carry criminal consequences. If you were arrested for drug possession, DUI, or other alleged criminal acts in Los Angeles, you could be facing misdemeanor charges. Read on to learn about misdemeanor charges under California criminal law. If you’ve been arrested for a misdemeanor in Southern California, call a knowledgeable Los Angeles and San Bernardino criminal defense lawyer at The Law Firm of Oscar A. Ischiu, Esq. for advice and representation.
Misdemeanor vs. Infraction vs. Felony in California
Different criminal acts may be charged as infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies. The classification of your charges is determined primarily based on the severity of the crime and the potential punishment.
An infraction is a minor offense, punishable by a maximum fine of $250 and no jail time. Infractions, such as speeding or other moving violations, are not considered actual “criminal” charges. With penalties and fees, the actual fine may be much higher, but the defendant will not face incarceration and will not get a criminal record.
Felonies are at the other end of the spectrum. A felony is any crime punishable by more than a year in prison. A felony conviction carries a number of additional consequences, affecting professional licensing, immigration, credit, and other areas of a defendant’s life.
Misdemeanors fall between infractions and felonies. Misdemeanors include crimes that are punishable by no more than a year in county jail. A misdemeanor conviction can lead to jail time but will not result in incarceration in state prison. Defendants convicted of a misdemeanor can also face probation for three to five years.
California law separates misdemeanors into two categories: standard misdemeanors and gross or aggravated misdemeanors. Standard misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Gross misdemeanors are punishable by up to 364 days in the county jail and, typically, a fine of up to $1,000. All misdemeanor sentences can include additional conditions such as drug or alcohol counseling, probation, or community service.
Common Misdemeanors in California
A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by up to 364 days in county jail. A wide range of criminal acts falls within the misdemeanor category. Some of the more common misdemeanor charges in California include:
- Drug Possession
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Violation of a Restraining Order
- Petty Theft
- Disturbing the Peace
- Reckless Driving
Just because a misdemeanor is not a felony charge does not mean you should take it lightly. A misdemeanor conviction can still affect your living situation, your credit, your education, and your career. You might also face significant time in a county jail, which is no laughing matter. If you’ve been placed under arrest for a misdemeanor, call a California misdemeanor defense lawyer as soon as possible to start building your defense.
What is a Wobbler?
A “wobbler” is a term used to describe certain crimes which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending upon the circumstances. The prosecution has the discretion to choose to pursue either misdemeanor or felony charges. The choice will be based on factors including the specific manner in which the crime was committed, the amount of contraband or money involved, the nature of the victim, and the defendant’s criminal history. The prosecution will still need to prove aggravating elements in order to obtain a felony conviction, but if the crime is a wobbler, there’s an option to charge it as a misdemeanor instead.
Common wobblers in California law include:
- Second-Degree Burglary
- Assault With a Deadly Weapon
- Grand Theft
- Elder Abuse
- Criminal Threats
- Unlawful Sexual Intercourse With a Minor (“Statutory Rape”)
- Sexual Battery
- Domestic Violence
Prosecutors retain discretion to charge wobblers as misdemeanors or felonies. They are meant to take into account several factors including the severity of the crime, the defendant’s cooperation with law enforcement, the defendant’s criminal history, the defendant’s age, and the strength of the prosecution’s case. For non-violent, first-time offenders, prosecutors are often willing to negotiate a plea down to misdemeanor charges rather than pursue a felony conviction. Discuss your case with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to find out how you might reduce your charges.
Call a Dedicated Southern California Misdemeanor Defense Lawyer For Help Fighting Criminal Charges in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties
If you’ve been arrested for a misdemeanor or a wobbler in Southern California, you need passionate legal counsel on your side. At The Law Firm of Oscar A. Ischiu, Esq., we provide skilled, effective, and comprehensive criminal defense to Southern California defendants. We offer a free initial consultation to discuss your situation and let you know how we can help. Call our misdemeanor defense law firm with offices in West Covina, Ontario and Monrovia for stellar criminal defense across Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.